The Middle East and North Africa gaming market is one of the least developed worldwide, but that’s changing fast as promoters and developers are taking it to the next level.
The MENA gaming market makes up 2.5% of the 135 billion dollars of sales brought in by the global market according to senior analyst Tom Wijman at Newzoo, a Netherlands based games analytics company.
Yet the passion for video gaming is evident in the region as enthusiasts participate actively in international competitions, with Saudi Arabia in the lead.
“Sixty to eighty percent of the population is 30 years of age or less and they need entertainment,” says Tariq Mukhttar, a Riyadh based game developer and community leader at GameDev Corners.
“There’s really no competition here,” he adds, “so anyone who gets in the market quite early is going to make a lot of cash.”
Localization, or customizing games by adapting language and cultural elements, is a popular way content creation companies are looking to unlock the region’s potential.
MBC Group’s WIZZO developed a game called Invasion starring Lebanese pop-star Haifa Wehbe in animated form.
International companies like France’s Ubisoft and China’s MENA Mobile are looking to get in on the action as well. These foreign firms are tapping local resources and contributing to the local economy according to Mukhttar.
“That means they will be employing more youngsters, more Arabs, that means there will be knowledge transfer and actual experience for our people on the ground,” he says. “That will help actually grow and attract investment in the region.”
With handheld mobile games generating more than 50 percent of revenue in the regional MENA market, it’s attracting the attention of local game developers as well.
Emirati game maker Fakhra Al Mansouri started her company Hybrid Humans Game Studio about five years ago, creating mostly mobile applications.
One of her most popular ones is a multiplayer racing game called Falcon Valley, which highlights local Emirati culture and became the Apple App store’s ‘game of the day’ in 2017.
Al Mansouri says the journey hasn’t been easy, spending thousands of her own money to sustain the business as investors don’t understand the rewards to be earned from the gaming market.
“They think it’s too risky. We need that education level to be spread out throughout the community, locally and regionally,” explains Al Mansouri.
She generates most of her money from advertisements and by selling digital products inside free downloadable games but says it’s not enough.
To keep afloat she develops interactive applications for clients, such Kid X for the UAE government, an adventure game to educate children about how to be good citizens.
Al Mansouri also makes cybersecurity programs using virtual reality to teach employees safe digital practices.
Whatever subject matter of the application, she says at the core of every game should be to communicate a relatable story.
“We know so much about the American culture because we grew up with those mediums but the rest of the world doesn’t know much about us as Emiratis, Arabs or Muslims,” says Al Mansouri.
At the end of the day successful game is all about pushing the right buttons with gamers and creating a bonding experience.